Egypt Deeply Split Amid Fears of Islamist Insurgency

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter in for Marco Werman and this is The World. The war in Syria isn't the only ongoing crisis in the Middle East right now. Remember Egypt? Its crisis began months ago with the military coup that ousted the nation's first freely elected leader after weeks of protests against him. President Mohammed Morsi was seen by many Egyptians as increasingly authoritarian. Then it was the turn of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters to take to the streets, but the Egyptian Army turned its guns on them and killed hundreds, maybe thousands. Then the chemical attack in Syria happened and it seemed like the world forgot about Egypt. That is except for reporters like David Kirkpatrick, Cairo bureau chief of the New York Times. So, David, if you would, bring us up to speed. You've been writing as though there are now two Egypts–the major urban centers like Cairo, which we've heard a lot about, and then the countryside where you just were.

David Kirkpatrick: Well, what's frustrating is that there is only one Egyptian media, and it thoroughly loves the current military appointed government. So it's very hard to get an accurate picture of what life is like outside of Cairo. So I went as far as Minya, a city up the river, you know, about 3-4 hours. And I found really surprisingly strong support for President Morsi there.

Schachter: Do you get the feeling that the protests there might get violent?

Kirkpatrick: Well, that's the million dollar question. You know, suppose you lived in a country where you felt that the military had ousted your elected president. You know, would you join the resistance? Would you find that it was a prudent thing to do to take up arms against this new government that has squashed the democratic process? You know, that already happened here under President Mubarak in the 1980s and 1990s, that there was an armed Islamist insurgency. So we're all waiting to see whether that might happen again. You know, there was a car bomb that went off in Cairo on Thursday, Sept. 5 in an effort to assassinate the interior minister, and that was for many people a kind of a warning sign. The minister himself said at the time, having survived the attack, this is just the beginning.

Schachter: Now you just used the word insurgency. That suggests some sort of you know, military action against the government. Is that what we're seeing now in Egypt?

Kirkpatrick: Well, I wouldn't, you know, the word insurgency might be a little grand. We're certainly seeing sporadic violence against the government and there are fears that it could turn into an insurgency. You know, there are especially in the Sinai, there's a pretty steady trickle of violence against police and soldiers. A few of them are killed every day or every few days. The Sinai has always been an area where the reach of the central government was weak to begin with, so that's you know, sort of its own thing. What was striking about this car bomb on Sept. 5, the effort to assassinate the interior minister is that it went off in a crowded Cairo street, so it showed really a pretty casual willingness to incur civilians deaths and casualties, as well as the ability to perpetrate this kind of a pretty major bombing inside the capital.

Schachter: You know, it struck me that the military ruler now who deposed President Morsi has done very little to try and placate the opposition. They're a huge part of the Egyptian population. Morsi was elected by them. And yet Muslim Brotherhood folks are being rounded up. A spokesman was just put in jail yesterday. It's awfully curious.

Kirkpatrick: Yeah, how's that gonna work, you really wonder. They're planning to go to the polls with a referendum on a new constitution in just a few months and then parliamentary elections after that. And they're still talking about a free, open, credible, democratic election with international monitors. And yet at the same time, their actions suggest that they're planning to systematically exclude what had been the largest political current in the country. And I don't honestly know how that's gonna play out. Certainly the writing on the wall seems to suggest that they have no intention whatsoever of allowing Islamist political parties to participate fully in the democratic process.

Schachter: David Kirkpatrick, Cairo bureau chief of the New York Times, thanks for your time.

Kirkpatrick: Always good to talk to you.